As a caregiver, you may not believe it, but you truly are among a group of unsung heroes. The number of caregivers is about 34 million strong, and growing. November is National Caregivers Month. Caregivers Connection wants to honor you. Continue reading
A survey was completed recently that showed that close to 50 percent of caregivers spend more than $5,000 annually on expenses related to caring for their aging loved ones. As many of those caregivers are caring for their own growing families as well as their aging loved ones this is putting a strain on their family finances.
Costs that are being borne by caregivers include:
- Paying for medication
- Paying for medical bills and co-pays
- Paying for in-home care
Caregivers also spend up to 30 hours per week caring for their aging relatives beyond their financial resources. You can see that time and put a strain on both wallet and body.
Some of the mistakes that caregivers make when they fall into the role is that they don’t properly budget for time or money. In some cases when family members are put into the role of caregiver it comes at a time of crisis and this could lead to overspending or perhaps not knowing what, if, or how much a loved ones insurance policy may pay for in-home care or other medications and physicians’ visits. If a caregiver doesn’t have access to, or is not in charge of, the loved ones’ assets, he may pay for it all out of pocket and hope for reimbursement later – this is not ideal.
The best way to make sure a family is prepared for a health or care crisis is to begin the conversation today about powers of attorney, finances, life and health insurance and even final wishes. Having a family meeting sooner, rather than later, can provide information that all parties need to be aware of in order to make the role into caregiving as seamless as possible.
Here are some financial tips families can take to minimize the financial burdens or stresses that come from caregiving:
- Ask for help. If you or your aging loved ones have close ties in the community reach out to them for assistance. This may be ideal if only to make certain your family members have interaction with the “outside world.” You, as a caregiver, have to remember you simply cannot do it all –especially if you’re working full time and caring for your own family. You need to look at hiring caregivers for your parents, finding someone who can take them to and from doctor’s visits or grocery shopping treks and even cleaning the house and preparing meals. Freeing up time for the caregiver is as important as the money being spent on hiring for these roles. Also, if you worry about your loved ones being home alone and having no contact it may make sense to invest in a home medical alert system. These devices offer a way for your family members to have immediate access to medical attention should the need arise.
- Join a caregivers support group. Many of the feelings you experience – anger, frustration, exhaustion and more are shared by others in your role. It’s best to make connections with others who are in the same situation because they may be a great source for inspiration and tricks to make caregiving easier.
- Understand the type of insurance your parents have, what is covered and what is excluded before you make any investments in in-home assistance or spend money on prescription drugs. Also, check to see if they’re eligible for any Veterans or Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits.
- Prior to the need arising, it’s best to investigate long term health care and living options. Making a decision on where to place mom or dad in the middle of a crisis is not healthy for anyone. When you’re researching locations for them to reside, you will also want to contact an elder law attorney so you can understand the options for payment of a stay.
- Gather all necessary paperwork – bank accounts, wills, power of attorney, insurance information, debts owed, information on utility payments, medications taken, physician information, etc. this way if your parents can no longer speak for themselves, the family knows where all of the “important papers” are kept.
The further ahead a family can plan the easier the transition to a caregiver/caregiving role will be. It is also a role that needs to be shared by all family members so that one sibling isn’t shouldering the entire load.
Today’s technology can help make caring for an aging loved one, especially from a long distance, easier. Whether you’re using smart phone technology, a computer or even a home medical alert device, these technologies allow you to be almost instantly in touch and a home medical alert device provides peace of mind that at the touch of a button, your aging loved one will have access to a trained professional who can summon emergency medical care.
One of the most recent technologies to make its way into homes are “smart watches.” From Samsung to Apple, smart watches provide access to health monitoring and information in the form of a wristwatch. Many of these watches monitor blood pressure, track the amount of steps taken on a daily basis and can help you track calories.
Apple will be providing an app called a HealthKit while Samsung currently offers its S-Health tracker in addition to other apps available in the market place. If your aging loved one, or in fact, anyone of any age with a health issue is in possession of one of these smart watches, it is a place in which all health care data and information can be tracked and accessed all in one easy to monitor location. Parents who have a child who needs to monitor blood glucose levels welcome this technology because it lets them track their levels from a distance.
The heart rate monitors may be ideal for those who need to track heart rates, blood pressure and pulse. This information could be set up to be sent to a health care provider, a family member or other virtual location.
This technology, much like the home medical alert devices, allows a caregiver to have immediate and constant access to the health of a loved one. It also provides peace of mind for a caregiver who may need to run errands or be otherwise out of the home or out of touch for an extended period of time. If your loved one lives in an assisted living situation, this health information could be relayed to a monitoring station that the nursing staff can track.
In the case of an elderly parent who is coping with more than one chronic condition: heart disease, blood pressure issues, Alzheimer’s, diabetes or others, this is a technology that provides caregivers with the vital information needed to know whether their loved one is healthy or in crisis. It also makes trips to doctor’s visits easier because vital information can be relayed and tracked prior to the visit and will assure no information will be missed during a discussion.
Whether you want to invest in smart watch technology, an easy-to-use computer or a personal medical alert system, these are pieces of equipment that serve multiple functions in addition to adding to your peace of mind as a caregiver.
With age comes wisdom, right? We also understand that with age come challenges as they relate to aging in place and being able to perform all of the tasks we’ve become accustomed to. Even with this said, aging also brings positive rewards to both the aging and to the caregivers involved.
What are some of the positive aspects of caring for elderly relatives and of aging itself? Here are a few:
- Both you and your parents are likely more mellow and that can help with the coping skills necessary for them to rely on you as a caregiver because the reversal of roles is not always an easy thing to deal with.
- You can all benefit from the confidence gained by working together. Your aging relatives will see that you are not only competent, but that you have taken the lessons they instilled in you as you were growing up and put them into practice. As a caregiver, you can also see the benefits of the assistance you’re providing your parents – you are able to help them now as they helped you when you were growing up.
- If you have grandchildren, having them spend time with you and your aging parents is a great way to deepen their bonds. Grandchildren can help to keep your aging parents “young” and your parents will likely be thrilled to have children in the home. Grandchildren can also help reignite curiosity and playfulness into their lives.
- By spending time together – both in the home and outside of it – you’re helping your aging loved ones to broaden their circle of friendships. This is especially true if you’re introducing them to outside activities as a way to keep them healthy, active and engaged.
- You may be more motivated to spend time together because, frankly as we age we realize how precious time is and that we need to savor every moment. Your aging parents might be more inclined to volunteer, undertake leisure activities that may have gotten pushed aside during the child-rearing years or they might even want to take a class at the local senior center or college.
Aging is a fact of life, but you can take a proactive and positive approach and welcome the changes that it brings to the lives of both the aging parent and the caregiver.
Earlier this fall, you probably saw the news about a study conducted by Cornell Professor Rana Zadeh. The study compared nurses working in two wards of an acute-care unit. While the working conditions were similar in terms of organization, environment and the type of patients they cared for, the significant difference was the availability of windows in the nurses’ work stations. The results showed that nurses with more natural light had lower blood pressure, talked and laughed more and had better overall moods than their counterparts in the ward with fewer windows & less natural light. In the study providing evidence that working in natural light improves performance, mood and alertness, and has a positive effect on people both physiologically and psychologically,
So what does this mean for caregivers and nurses? In most cases, there’s little you can do to modify your work environment but there are a few things that may help:
- Avoid the windowless break room & lunch room. Opt instead to go outside and enjoy a few minutes of fresh air and natural light. If you can take a walk at lunch, do so. In colder climates, spend a few minutes near a window during the winter months and take in the natural lighting. These steps are similar to parking farther away in the parking lot and taking the steps instead of the elevator in order to get more exercise. In this case, you’re taking steps to elevate your mood and improve your performance.
- If you’re a home health aide or caregiver, throw open the drapes. Not only will the natural light be good for you, your care recipient will benefit as well. While you’re at it, throw open your own drapes at home!
- Spend time outside when you get home from work and on the weekends. Spending too much time inside can have negative effects on your mood and attitude.
- If you’re job hunting, there are many factors that are likely to be far more important than a “room with a view”, but while you’re interviewing, observe the surroundings. If you have a choice and all things are (mostly) equal, opt for the job with the most natural light.
Beatitudes for Caregivers
Blessed are those who sleep poorly because they’re worried about their loved one or because their loved one wakes in the middle of the night and needs help, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn because their loved one, though still alive, is slipping away because of dementia, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek who force themselves to speak up and speak out to make sure their loved one receives the help he or she needs, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for answers to why this is happening to their loved one and how much longer it will go on, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who show mercy, kindness and compassion to their loved one, for they will be shown mercy, kindness and compassion.
Blessed are those who keep clean a loved one who is physically or mentally unable to keep himself or herself clean, for they will see God.
Blessed are those who help their loved one find moments of peace, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are misunderstood, not appreciated and taken for granted in their role as caregiver, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you whose caregiving efforts are unjustly criticized — or who are falsely accused of not caring about others — because of your love for your care-receiver and your love for God, who has asked you to help his beloved son or daughter.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.
A Caregiver’s Prayer
Heavenly Father, help me better understand and believe I can do what you ask me to do.
Forgive me for the times, even now, when I question your judgment.
As I go about the many daily tasks of caregiving, give me energy.
As I watch my loved one oh-so-slowly walk across the room, give me strength.
As I answer his/her repeated question just one more time, give me patience.
As I look for solutions to whatever is the most recent concern, give me wisdom.
As I reminisce with him/her about the “good old days,” give me a moment of laughter.
As I get to know my loved one in a new way, seeing both his or her strength and frailty, give me joy.
As I sit beside my loved one’s bed waiting for his or her pain medication to take effect, give me comfort.
Lighten my burden, answer my prayer, and give me the strength to do what so often seems impossible. Give me a quiet place to rest when I need it and a quieting of my anxieties when I’m there.
Change my attitude from a tired, frustrated and angry caregiver to the loving and compassionate one I want to be.
Remain my constant companion as I face the challenges of caregiving, and when my job is through and it’s time for me to let go, help me remember that he or she is leaving my loving arms to enter your eternal embrace. Amen.
From Catholic Herald.
Although November is designated as National Caregivers Month although for anyone involved in the caregiving process, it is a year ‘round task when it comes to caring for frail, elderly or disabled friends or family members. The term caregiver means “anyone who provides assistance to someone else who is, in some degree, incapacitated and needs help: a husband who has suffered a stroke; a wife with Parkinson’s disease; a mother-in-law with cancer; a grandfather with Alzheimer’s disease…” according to the Family Caregiver Alliance.
The Alliance also notes that “family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion worth of uncompensated care to loved ones annually.” Many senior organizations also note that family caregivers will remain the largest source of unpaid family caregivers in the United States. Given the advances in healthcare and medical treatments, many seniors are living much longer and in many situations, the family has taken on the role of caregiver rather than admitting loved ones to nursing home or assisted living care.
Caregiving By The Numbers
Reports and statistics compiled by various groups in the country point to these trends in caregiving in the United States:
• More women than men are involved in caring for an aging relative. Of those it’s been found that close to 35% of those individuals are caring for two or more family members.
• The average age of the female caregiver is 48. Although the average age of caregivers is 48, there are many caregivers that are, themselves, older adults (age 65 and older) and of those caregivers, close to one-third of them is in fair to poor health themselves.
• There are close to 66 million caregivers in the US and those count for up to 30% of the population that are involved in caring for an aged or ill relative.
There are many programs available to provide support for caregivers. The support ranges from information on available adult services in a specific part of the country, to counseling for the caregiver, support groups, training for caregivers and respite services.
How Can You Celebrate A Caregiver?
There are many ways in which you can “celebrate” a caregiver in your life or in your family. These ideas are ideal to put into practice not only during the month of November, but throughout the year. Being a caregiver is a sometimes thankless task and many caregivers are not comfortable reaching out and asking for a helping hand. How can you help? Here are some ideas:
• Offer to help out a caregiver. Whether it’s helping to prepare a meal or two, cleaning the house, running errands, doing yard work, or offering to sit with the seniors in their care so they can take a few hours, or a day, off will welcomed and appreciated.
• Host a get together for caregivers in your family.
• Contact a local community or senior center in your area and ask about hosing a Caregivers Awareness event.
• Send a card or a gift basket to a caregiver.
• Use social media to prompt your elected officials to promote legislation aimed at developing family-friendly caregiver policies
The numbers show that the aging population relies on family caregivers. Take time throughout the year to recognize their contributions.
For some, the role of caregiver for an ailing or aging parent is one that has been planned for. For others, being thrust into the role of caregiver, in many cases while still raising your own family and holding down a full time job, is not one for which you’re prepared.
Feeling overwhelmed, underprepared and even unappreciated are emotions many caregivers go through. You may feel guilt, anger, frustration, sadness and anxiety, but these feelings are natural. Along with the negative feelings that may ebb and flow during the course of caring for aging loved ones you will also experience gifts that come with that role including, compassion, courage, forgiveness and a sense of understanding and fulfillment.
Whether you’re trained in the area of health care or if this is your first experience caring for an aging or infirm relative, there are some steps you can take to familiarize yourself with what lies ahead and what you can do to navigate the changing family dynamics.
Below are some tips to help you as you move into your new role:
- Before you can begin helping your aging loved ones you need a baseline of information on what they need, how you can help, what signs and symptoms to look for. Ask their doctor if he’s seen changes in their health or behavior and what you should expect. Ask him to review the medications list and frequency the medications should be taken, it’s best to compare this list with the medications you have found in your parent’s home to make certain they are taking the correct medications.
- If your parents haven’t seen a doctor recently, make an appointment for a comprehensive check-up. There could be underlying medical conditions that could be easily addressed which could make it possible for them to age in place and which may make your role of caregiver an easier one. Also, ask the doctor at the visit whether he feels your parents are able to remain living independently. Keep in mind that if they are borderline with needing in home care or moving to an assisted living facility, simply equipping the home with a medical monitoring device and them with a medical alert pendant you may be able to extend the time they can remain in their own home.
- What exactly do your loved ones need? Are they keeping up with personal hygiene as in bathing and getting dressed for the day? Are they taking their medications as prescribed? Do you notice any signs that may be alarming; such as forgetting to turn off the stove when they’re done cooking? Are they able to keep up with light housework and cooking? Do they need help paying the bills or doing heavier outside yard work? If they are overwhelmed with cooking meals and are perhaps not eating as healthy as they should be? If that’s the case look into a Meals-on-Wheels program or prepare meals for them and deliver them throughout the week. Knowing what your parents need will help gauge the level of involvement.
- Involve your family members in the role of caregiver. Ask for help with items you simply cannot take on. Look into county-offered services for the aging. Make notes and keep a folder of information available for all family members on any signs of deterioration in your loved ones. Put all medical information and prescription information in that folder as well.
- Prepare for any eventuality. In the event your parents reach the point when they can no longer live alone, what will the options be for their living arrangements? Will they move in with a family member? Do they need to explore assisted living or nursing home arrangements? Begin researching these options now as you don’t want to have to make decisions in the event of an emergency and be faced with an untenable situation. Be sure to involve your loved ones in the conversations and ask what their feelings are on where they may eventually be living. Preparing could also mean looking into hiring a part time home healthcare aide or a nursing service to come in and check on their mental and physical health on occasion.
- Undertake a financial check-up and review legal documents. While your parents may be hesitant to share bank account or credit card information, impress upon them that sharing that information can help with long term care planning needs. If you, and other family members, have an understanding of their financial situation you will be better able to navigate the roads that lie ahead. You will also want to ask if your parents have a will. Where they keep their life insurance and medical insurance papers. Who do they want to designate as a healthcare proxy or power of attorney? This information needs to be decided upon prior to deterioration in mental or physical health as you don’t want to be making decisions under duress.
- Safety proof the home. If your parents are determined to age in place, then your role as caregiver could mean doing a safety check up of the home to make certain it is safe. Mobility issues plague many seniors and removing trip and fall hazards, making sure there are clear walkways and that the rugs are non skid and are securely in place can go a long way in keeping trip and fall incidents to a minimum. Make certain smoke alarms are installed and working. Check that hallways and rooms have proper lighting and consider installing motion activated lights. Check the water temperatures to make sure that hot water isn’t going to scald them. Make certain they have access to adequate healthy foods and that they are, in fact, eating the food you’ve shopped for or prepared. Post a list of emergency phone numbers by the telephone and in other locations around the house where they can easily access them. Keep in mind, though that in the event of a medical emergency or a trip or fall accident they may not be able to reach the telephone and may be in too much pain or unable to dial the telephone – this again, is a reason to give them access to a medical alert pendant. At the push of a button emergency medical personnel are summoned and your parents will have access to an experienced call center representative from LifeFone who will stay with them until help arrives. LifeFone representatives will also call family and doctors to alert them.
Caregivers sometimes find themselves toiling in isolation. It may make sense to interact with other caregivers, ask them how they address particular situations and just simply talk with someone who understands what you’re going through. Being a caregiver for your parents, is one that may be fraught with tension but it can also be a time to reconnect and build new memories that will carry over for a lifetime.
It may seem like it’s too early to begin thinking about the holidays, but once October hits the months tend to become a blur. If you’re a caregiver that is in charge of caring for your own family, holding down a job and caring for sick or elderly parents, planning and preparation is crucial to an enjoyable holiday for all involved.
What steps can you take now prior to the busyness of the holiday season so that you can enjoy both the holiday and time with your friends and family? Here are a few suggestions:
- Make certain your aging relative is healthy before the holidays roll around. Do they need to get a flu shot or an annual check-up? Schedule those before the season picks up. Ask their primary care doctor about the medications they are on and whether they’re still up to date with everything they’re taking.
- Know all that you can about how the stress of the holiday might impact your loved one. If your mom or dad has been recently widowed, the holidays could be a painful time for them. Be cognizant of that fact. Understand what other medical conditions they might have that could make it difficult for them around the holidays – dementia could mean they could be fearful in situations in which they aren’t accustomed to.
- If your relatives will be traveling for the holidays, be aware that their home medical alert system with LifeFone can travel with them. You need only contact LifeFone to let them know the new location and the duration of the stay. Having their personal medical device with them when they travel is a great idea.
Caring for yourself during the holidays is as important, if not more so, than caring for the health of your aging parents. What can you do to make certain you’re healthy? Here are some tips:
- Have a check up with your family physician and get a flu shot if necessary.
- Make certain you take time to eat healthy meals, even if you’re on the run with errands. Pack healthy take along snacks and prepare meals at home so you’re not tempted by fast food.
- If you can’t make it to the gym, get a piece of exercise equipment for your home that you are sure to use. Whether it’s a treadmill or a DVD of exercise routines, staying fit, healthy and active will help you deal with the holiday madness to come!
- Take time to enjoy those holiday traditions that are solely yours and those that are part of your extended family. If you need to excuse yourself for an afternoon to work on holiday crochet projects or to do some scrapbooking or to simply wander the malls by yourself, you need to make time for yourself – your mental health will thank you.
- Connect with other caregivers and ask how they handle holiday and family and caregiving. Caregiving can be stressful during the best of times during the year but for many of us, the holidays add additional pressure. Talking to someone in your same situation can be more than beneficial.
- Don’t forget to ask your aging relatives what they’d like to do for the holidays. Do they have a special tradition that they’d like to incorporate? Try to make that happen so that the holidays are as memorable for everyone as they can be.
Start today, putting your holiday plans in place, whether it’s looking at a calendar and determining who will be cooking the holiday meals and when the more pre-planning you do, the more enjoyable the months ahead will be.
Just as we are different from each of our siblings, so too are our aging parents unique in their own way. Whether your parents bicker or get along well, if the time comes when they can no longer age in place, you and other family members will need to look at options for caring for them. In some cases you and your spouse may find yourselves face with the situation where each of you had an aging relative or two that you’ve suddenly become responsible for and that makes for an even more precarious balancing act between both sides of the family as well as your own family.
What do you do, and how can you balance the duties that come along with caring for two or more aging relatives? Here are some suggestions:
- Determine whether any of the seniors in your life can live alone. If being alone is possible with assistance, consider gifting them with a home medical alert device and a personal medical alert pendant as this can offer peace of mind to all involved as well as provide them access to immediate medical care if necessary.
- Would hiring an in-home part-time caregiver help relieve some of the caregiving burden upon you and your family members? Would your parents be amenable to having a “stranger” come into the house to help them out? This is something that would need to be discussed up front. Is there an outreach at the church or local religious association they attend that could provide assistance? Even getting help with cooking, cleaning, yard work or running errands can help relieve some of the burden of caregiving and allow you to simply sit and relax when you visit your parents and spend time with them rather than having to rush around to do the housework and errands.
- If you are caring for both parents and in-laws, how do you divide the time between them so there are no hurt feelings of being left out? This could come down to a matter of “who needs the most care.”
- You will have to learn to ask for help and delegate tasks. If you and your spouse are both engaged in caregiving and you have siblings in the area, you will need to pick up a phone and ask for help. You can’t do it all alone and you shouldn’t have to. Being an effective caregiver means knowing your limits and reaching out for help before you burn out.
- Even if you have healthy parents, but your spouse has parents in need of care, don’t neglect to spend time with your own, healthier relatives. Feelings of hurt and neglect can quickly boil over into a stressful family situation.
Being in a caregiving situation is stressful, but can be managed with time and effort and thoughtful care. Adding a second or third elderly relative into the mix will certainly add to the challenges. Make certain you take time to remember the care you’re giving may allow your parents to age in place for a longer period of time and use the time you’re spending with them to build memories for those times when they are no longer with you.